[Metal/Gothic] Theatre of Tragedy – Aegis (20th Anniversary Release)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the second album by the Norwegian gothic metal band Theatre Of Tragedy. Listening to it reminds me how great the 90s was for the gothic metal scene and one of the most prolific period in which we have seen most of the metal divas entering the scene and in their trails new genre of metal in Europe and in particular from Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland).
Indeed, that period was the golden age for the second wave coming from Norway. This time a much different style and approach than the first wave made notoriously famous by the church burning and the intestine hatred between some black metal bands (You cannot go without mentioning the name of Varg Vikenes).
This second wave brought one of the most refined sounds to be heard in gothic metal by two Norwegian bands (Tristania and Theatre of Tragedy) supported by some of the most talented feminine voice in metal.
One of them is Liv Kristine, certainly one of the most hypnotizing voice in the “female-fronted metal bands” (I hate that word but I use it applied to the context of that period).
In this second album, named “Aegis”, Theatre of Tragedy learnt from their first album and perfected their sound and Liv her vocal performance. The result? A masterpiece of Gothic Metal. The album is a 10-track album spanning for about an hour.
We get aspired into it straight by the first title “Cassandra” wrapped by the mysterious atmosphere and the vocals of Liv. It is rapidly followed by “Lorelei”, that is more fast-paced than “Cassandra” but in perfect manner. “Angelique”, takes more into a melodic ballad that is reminiscent of a Lacuna Coil. A very relaxing track to listen. “Aoede”, the fourth track, is original and maybe very disorienting because at first we don’t know if they sing in Norwegian on this track until you read the lyrics and assume they wrote in Old English. Thats give the extra amount of mystery and stimulation. The fifth track, “Siren”, is certainly my favorite. By its composition, by its lyrics and by the voice of Liv Kristin. Definitely Liv is the Siren in this song, as we can only succumb to her voice and drown in the waves of melancholy and sadness. I would give any day a shoot to a “Theatre of Tragedy” to a “Leaves Eyes”. This is the kind of track that makes this album a must-have in your collection.
The rest of the album is also very good with tracks such as “Samantha”, “Venus”, “Poppaea”, giving an escape and some well refined gothic metal songs. “Bacchante” is probably my least favorite and its rightfully eclipsed by “Virago”, my second favorite of the album.
If you want to judge the quality of the album, submit it to the test of time and give it a listening session 20 years after the release. While in the 90s, some claimed the metal scene was deadbeat by grunge and alternative, it was only an appearance. It just needed to be searched, to be initiated by a friend or by a savvy record store to realize that underneath the visible, a whole new genre of metal was growing and morphing giving us some of the best sounds of the 90s. And Theatre of Tragedy was one of them.

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[Metal/Melodic Death] Arch Enemy – Stigmata (20th Anniversary)

On May 5th 1998, Arch Enemy released their second album entitled “Stigmata”, with Johan Liiva on the vocals, Michael and Chris Amott behind the guitars, Martin Bengtsson on the bass and Daniel Erlandsson on the drums.

It follows the step of the first album “Black Earth” by keeping it heavy, fast-paced death metal but we also start to slightly different vibes premising the artistic direction of their next album “Wages of Sin”. It is a 12-songs album spanning a bit over 46 mins.

The album, although keeping a continuity with “Black Earth” also start to develop its own identity and gave signs of what the artistic direction the band will take in “Wages Of Sin”.
Indeed, we are navigating and alternative in the album between continuity in death metal (Beast Of Man, Dark of The Sun, Let The Killing Begin, Diva Satanica, Damnation’s Way) and innovative melodics (Stigmata, Sinsisters Mephisto, Hydra, Tears Of The Dead, Tears Of Destiny) and even a complete break from death with the introduction of power melodic ballads in tracks such as in “Vox Stellarum”, giving this sounds I call the “Michael Amott Midas Touch”.

But my favorite track that is coming out from the album in general is “Black Earth” with the the humming of the guitars at the beginning sounding like B-17 Flying Fortress.

Overall, the album is okay but listening back is missing this particular sounds that you have if you got into the band while Angela fronted the band. I am not fond of death in general and this can bias my overall experience, however I personally liked more the later iteration of the band with heavy infusion of melodics into their death.

 

 

[Metal/Heavy] Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of A Seventh Son (30th Anniversary)

Today marks the 30th anniversary release of “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” by Iron Maiden. This album has a special place in my heart, because this is the album that introduced me to Iron Maiden (via the song eponym to the album).
I still remember listening to this album as a friend of my brother came in and put that CD into the Hi-Fi system. It was some lovely tunes to my ears, allowing me to get over the stereotype of Eddie (as a teen) and indeed appreciate something different from the hard rock I used to listen while in middle school and discover the realm of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal, made of wonderful melodic riffs of Adrian Smith and Steve Harris and storytelling lyrics narrated by Bruce Dickinson.
It is also interesting to note that it was the introduction of keyboards into Iron Maiden and according to some excerpts in Wikipedia, Bruce attributed the decreased sales on the US Market on the presence of these keyboard elements. However, he also questioned and criticized some comments that the album was sounding as “European-style Iron Maiden”, arguing that there is no a European or American-style Iron Maiden. It is interesting because reading it today explains while there is such a rift in metal style between the US and Europe (with me having hard time to find decent band in the former, while having most of my collection coming from the latter).
It also support my opinion that US metal listeners have a fond for simple but brutal riffs (without keyboards), while European metal listeners have a certain attraction to complex instrumentations and the presence of keyboards.
The album is an 8 track album totaling about 40 minutes. We get into it very progressively with “Moonchild”, followed by “Infinite Dreams” and by “Can I play with Madness”. “Can I play with Madness” is one of the three tracks that got a release as a single and an official music video in the glory age of MTV (when MTV was about Music TV, just that).

But things start to get very serious with “The Evil Things Man Can Do”, one of my top 10 Iron Maiden songs. A song that want to make you raise your arm and yell “Up The Irons”

But the piece of resistance, the paroxysm in the album is only coming with the song “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” in which we get the most of the keyboard element and this was my first song that I ever listened from Iron Maiden.
After being introduced by the riffs of Adrian and the keyboards comes Bruce narrating about the story of the Seven Sons.
Here they stand brothers them allAll the sons divided they’d fallHere await the birth of the sonThe seventh, the heavenly, the chosen one.
Followed by the “Ooooooooooohhhhhhhh” of Bruce. Oh my, this is such a musical orgasm to listen, with all the goosebumps and the piloerections on my arms!
Here the birth from an unbroken line/ Born the healer the seventh, his time/ Unknowingly blessed and as his life unfolds/ Slowly unveiling the power he holds“.
All followed by the interlude guitar solo with Adrian and Steve that gives this depth and complexity, interrupted by Bruce monologue “Today is born the seventh one/Born of woman the seventh son/And he in turn of a seventh son/He has the power to heal/He has the gift of the second sight/He is the chosen one/So it shall be written/So it shall be done“. Listening to this beauty while you are 14 is priceless!
Things cool down with the seventh and eight tracks “The Prophecy” and “Only The Good Die Young”.
After 30 years, this is an album that still stand strong, and would definitely recommend as a primer for anyone that want to get into Iron Maiden. Up the Irons!

[Metal/Symphonic] Whyzdom – As Time Turns To Dust (85%)

Whyzdom (probably the best French Symphonic Metal band IMO), after three years of waiting, released their fourth album “As Time Turns To Dust”. So, how does this album stands and compare to their previous releases? I would say unique and similar at the same time (for some reasons it reminded at times of their second album “Blind?”, propelled by Vince Leff at the helm and by Marie McLeod at the front.
We have in hand a 9-tracks song with 58 minutes of pure enchantment Whyzdom-style. It all starts with “Armour of Dust”, introducing us in a Hans Zimmer’s style “a la Dark Knight” followed by some classic Whyzdom. The second track, “Armageddon” is surprisingly not really my favorite despite being heavy. I don’t know why I dont really click on that one. “Fly Away”, is a good track but still missing something to make me all excited about. “The Page” is probably my favorite starting with a guitar solo and Marie, going crescendo and becoming more and more complex until you reach a paroxysmal euphoria. Thats the kind of auditive cues that make you limbic system overstimulated. “Follow Your Heart”, the 5th track of the album, has this Epica feeling that is making it very attractive. “Angel of Tears” is a good one, starting with the Celtic vibes and very dynamic. “Free As a Bird” is for some reasons reminding me of “Cassandra”. “The Mistchild” has this feeling of proximity of “Blind?”.  The last track, “Dust We Are”, is good but I have experienced more enjoyment in tracks of their previous album.
Overall the album is good, but I feel there was something missing. I really worked hard on this album by listening at least five times before writing my critique. I did not feel the shock and awe that I have with “Tears of a Hopeless God”, I don’t why. The album is good, but it was not giving me the thrills that would make it “an amazing experience”. Maybe it is just me becoming an old schmuck.
Anyway, the album is a good one and if you are looking for some new sounds in the Symphonic that is not from the four Valkyries of the Symphonic Metal, you should definitely try Whyzdom and feel what the French touch sounds like when they tamper with Symphonic Metal, something unique.

[Metal/Gothic] Lacuna Coil – Lacuna Coil EP (20th Anniversary)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the first EP of Lacuna Coil titled “Lacuna Coil”, released on April 7th 1998. Little knew that 20 years later, Lacuna Coil would have become a reference in the gothic metal scene and a flagship for representing the Italian metal around the globe. Lacuna Coil hit hard with their EP, with a unique vocal duo impersonated through Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia that as today remains the founding members still present in the band line-up.
The EP is a six-tracks totaling a 28 minutes of pure delight in terms of gothic metal. Looking back to it, I would say that the musical style is maybe more frugal than the current direction, in the sense the sound is raw from instruments with little arrangements. Otherwise it is some pure Lacuna Coil, especially when you got into the group via their second album “Unleashed Memories”. They got it right, straight from the first try with this EP.
You recognize great bands by being able to get back into their discography and find the same enjoyment in listening to their debut album or extended plays.

[Metal/Gig] Primal Rage Tour @ Zombiez Bar’N’Grill (03/31/2018)

Tonight Yellow City was the host of some SoCal thrash metal bands named Toxin, as part of their Primal Rage tour. It is always good to have some pit stop in Yellow City, bringing in some musical diversity in town .

I kind of joined the show a bit late, but early enough to listen to Pitchfork Surgery, a local grindcore band.

Good stuff, fast and furious riffs. Something to ramp up the bar and being warmed up for the headliners.

The second part became indeed very interesting with the arrival of Toxin. Hmmm….some good old thrash metal straight from the early days of Metallica and Slayer. Thrash metal still holds certain layers of complexity into it making it much more enjoyable in my opinion of any vanilla death metal.

A young band for sure, but a damn good young band. I wish them welcome to The Lone Star State and good luck with the rest of their tour.

[Metal/Prog] Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart (90%)

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Do you remember how you used to get into listening awesome bands by having a friend recommending you an album? Yep, that happened to me as Geo recently recommended to give a shout to Oceans of Slumber latest album “The Banished Heart”.
Oceans of Slumber is a prog metal band from Houston, Texas elegantly blending various genres in their artistic directions with nice flavors of gothic, symphonic, sludge, doom and blackgazing into their music, all supported by the very unique voice of Camille Gilbert.
With their third album (and the first album for me :)), we have here an awesome 11-tracks album spanning over 65 minutes of metallic musical escape, swirling you into an euphoric daze.
We get into the album with “Decay of Disregard”, nicely introduced by piano notes giving blend of gothic and doom-infused ambiences and nicely introduced us to Camille’s voice. If I have to pick something, it is certainly her voice that is very unique from usually what I am listening to (mezzo-soprano opera, growls). Camille’s melancholic voice (almost a blues type of voice) is certainly the stunning part when you get introduced to the band.
“Fleeting Vigilance” and “At Dawn” have “je ne sais quoi”, something remembering the old days of Anathema and Swallow the Sun.
“The Banished Heart” is probably my favorite. Why? I dont know, because of its strong infusion of doom and gothic elements inside the track, all wrapped into a flow of a piano solo. Simply serendipitous track to listen. Just listen to it!

“The Watcher”, fifth song of the album, serves us as an interlude relying heavily on the synthetic sounds giving this feeling of synth wave. “Etiolation” continues and sounds more like regular prog metal. Thats fine for me but not transcended either. In the opposite, the following track “A Path of Broken Stars” have this kind of melodic power metal reminiscant of some old Kamelot tunes. A damn good one to listen. “Howl of The Rougarou” starts with half an acoustic, followed by regular and melancholic tones.
“Her in the Distance” is another interlude, again all betting on the piano and a strong Gothic atmosphere. Oh yeah, this is how you can make me happy. “No Color, No Light” starts with something like straight from an old Anathema album (in other words some amazing Gothic vibes), with all the doom and the gloom with it that nicely blend with Camille’s melancholic voice. My second favorite track!. “Wayfaring Stranger” is the last track of the album. It is good, but maybe a bit too much “dubstep” for my ears.
Taken together, this is an amazing album to pick for this month. It will take out of your comfort zone into new musical venues and experimentation and blending with different subgenera in metal. I always criticize the US metal bands community for revolving around the same “death/grind/metalcore” circle, leading in my opinion a poorer diversity and complexity compared to Europe (notably, US metalheads often dismiss European metal bands for being too complex or not tough enough to their ears). That  often ignoring some shining nuggets outside of this range. Oceans of Slumbers is one of these nuggets that worth being discovered and supported, rivaling with some of the best band on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, they get my “album of the month” sticker.